Record! Scientists created the world's smallest knot with 54 atoms

A team of Chinese physicists from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that they managed to create a record for the smallest knot ever. Using just 54 atoms, scientists managed to coil them three times into a type of knot called a 'clover'bringing the ends of the atoms together to make a loop that has no loose ends.

In a study published in the scientific journal Nature Communiocations, Chinese scientists Zhiwen Li, Jingjing Zhang, Gao, in partnership with Richard Puddephat from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, were trying to create metal acetylides in their laboratories when they created the world's smallest knot by accident.

The team's original objective was to develop an alkyne to use as a conduction medium in different types of organic reactions, but the experiment ended in an unexpected way.

The researchers explain that they were trying to connect carbon structures to gold acetylides to create a simple gold chair, known as a catane.Source: Nature Communications

During the laboratory experiment, an unexpected reaction ended up creating the smallest knot in the world with 54 atoms; the appearance is similar to the characteristic pretzel bread. Physicists explain that cloverleaf knots play an important role in knot theory and in various areas of study such as physics and chemistry.

“Molecular knots, the synthesis of which presents many challenges, can play important roles in the structure and function of proteins, as well as in useful molecular materials, whose properties depend on the size of the knotted structure… The intrinsic beauty and utility of the knot has stimulated a wave of research on us in various scientific fields, including mathematics, physics, biology and chemistry,” the scientists describe in the study.

Smallest knot in the world

In 2020, another team of Chinese scientists managed to create a knot with 69 atoms, considered the record for the smallest knot in the world so far. Unlike the recent article, the researchers in the other study created the structure intentionally, using techniques to intertwine the nodes. As the new record is the result of an accident, Physicists don't know how the node was created, nor are they sure whether it's possible to create an even smaller version.

The smallest knot in the world has a structure similar to a pretzel bun.The smallest knot in the world has a structure similar to a pretzel bun.Source: Getty Images

The research explains that the knot area is very important for science, after all, structures such as RNA, DNA and several other proteins are formed by microscopic knots. In this way, they hope to find more answers about how knots arise in nature.

“It is worth noting that the Au6 trefoil knot contains only 54 atoms in the backbone, thus being the smallest molecular knot ever reported, while its backbone crossover ratio of 18 also defines it as the tightest molecular knot. Since recent findings have indicated a strong dependence of knot squeezability on useful properties, this work should provide solid motivation to pursue similar, but hopefully more robust, structures through self-assembly,” the study concludes.

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